12/17/09 — Details released on plan for schools

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Details released on plan for schools

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 17, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Besides consolidating James Kenan High School and North Duplin Junior/Senior High School, the Duplin County Board of Education hopes to build a new centralized high school and combine E.E. Smith Middle School with Warsaw Middle School.

Under the board's motion, which was voted in 3-2 Tuesday night with board member Willie Gillespie absent due to medical reasons, students from James Kenan and North Duplin Junior/Senior high schools will merge into the proposed new building.

Additionally, the board plans to move students from E.E. Smith Middle School in Kenansville and Warsaw Middle School into a new middle school, which will be housed at the current James Kenan High School building. The consolidation of the two middle schools will provide the students from both schools with more room, Superintendent Dr. Wiley J. Doby said.

"They'll get more opportunities than they currently have in the two smaller buildings," Doby said.

Students from the B.F. Grady district who would normally move on to attend East Duplin High School will be able to attend the new high school in a move to reduce crowding in the East Duplin district, he said.

"The plans right now, the Board of Education plans that passed last night (Tuesday), would be to build a central high school, which will build a consolidation of North Duplin and students from B.F. Grady that would go to East Duplin," Doby said.

The school board does plan on pursuing federal stimulus funding tax credits for the project, he said.

"Oh yes, that's already in progress right now," Doby said.

The board also backtracked from previous discussions of building a new school in the overpopulated B.F. Grady district. The plan put in place could help the district, Doby said.

"I think that it will certainly mean that the B.F. Grady area, we will not have the expense of building a new school, and of course that's very significant," he said.

The move to consolidate the schools and build a new high school is a way of approaching the county's overcrowding problems in Duplin County schools, the superintendent said.

"It will take, also, the capacity problems that East Duplin High School is having and will continue to have from with military growth in the Jacksonville area. And in terms of the new central high school, we will have a high school that will be able to provide the opportunities that students need for success in the 21st century," Doby said.

The Board of Education does not have a timeline in mind for proceeding with the project yet.

"Right now, we're in the very early stages. I think it's too early to have a timeline," he said.

The board's decision was met with a backlash from North Duplin parents and supporters. One North Duplin parent started an e-mail and phone call campaign Wednesday, urging others to contact the Duplin County Board of Commissioners in a bid to keep the commissioners from funding the proposed centralized high school.

The Board of Education does not have a timeline in place for the consolidation, and the board members had not had time to discuss the issue of funding the construction project with the commissioners, the superintendent said.

"Since it was just passed last night, there really hasn't been an opportunity," he said.

Doby said that his message to parents unhappy with the board's decision was that the consolidation plan is meant to provide students with a good education.

"I would tell them that I believe this plan is an excellent plan for moving forward and providing as many opportunities as they can for the education of the children of Duplin County for the future, and to do it as cost-effective as possible," he said.

Karen Scalf of the group Concerned Parents for Duplin County Education said that before moving forward with any plans for the future, the Board of Education should look at other issues within the schools.

"B.F. Grady still has negative leadership at the top that is affecting day-to-day operations," she said.

Doug Hill, principal at B.F. Grady Elementary School, said he supported the school board in its decision to move forward with the reorganization efforts.

"Whatever direction the Board of Education feels like is best, I support 100 percent," Hill said.

At a previous facilities session on Dec. 9, architect Robert Ferris presented to board members a plan to build a modern, energy-efficient high school using $6.9 million in tax credits. Building soon would also take advantage of low construction costs. The project would cost about $28 million after the credits. The paperwork to apply for the tax credits would have to be in by Christmas for the county to stand a chance of getting the money, Ferris said at that time.

The timing of the board learning about the available federal tax credits for building a new high school just weeks before the forms are due was unusual, Mrs. Scalf said.

"USDA funds have all of a sudden become a priority for the Board of Education to make a hasty decision on building schools. Where was this information three months ago, and who didn't do their job back then? Let the guilty one step forward please," she said.

When asked about the timing, Doby said he did not know why the school board only heard about the available funding so late in the year.

"I really don't know, I'm not sure about that," he said.